Beuys: A celebratory tribute to a celebrated artist
by Joseph Proimakis
- BERLIN 2017: A respectful and enlightening documentary, Andres Veiel’s competition entry looks at the man behind the controversy
A pioneering revolutionist, who pushed the boundaries of what can be considered art to unprecedented extremes, German artist Joseph Beuys was a controversial figure who, four decades ago, almost singlehandedly shaped what we still consider avant-garde. Nevertheless, the extreme controversialist’s legacy is barely as celebrated as that of his contemporaries like Andy Warhol, which is precisely what Andres Veiel’s documentary Beuys [+see also:
film profile], presented in the Berlinale’s official competition, aims to change.
A well-informed documentary, which inspires further research on the artist’s influence – which is, in this case, taken for granted – Veiel’s film strives to not only invite viewers to reminisce over the importance of Beuys' work, but also provide us with an insight into the workings of a true anti-conformist’s mind.
Beuys’ emblematic 7,000 Oaks monopolises the film’s immensely enjoyable first part, before the director moves back in time to retell Beuys’ life story: he was born into a bourgeois life, which he went on to dismantle with his subversive work. His abrupt passage to adulthood as a Luftwaffe rear gunner gently justifies his mocking and light-hearted approach to life, while references to works and public appearances help to sketch out the effect the artist had on his peers, who would meet his views with reactions ranging from bemusement to plain outrage.
Mixing eclectic footage from interviews, unveilings and events that Beuys was the star of, along with modern-day analyses by art scholars and contributions by former co-workers, students and admirers, the film stands out for its unique approach to the work of Beuys.
Both his most recognisable and less emblematic works come alive on screen thanks to the inventive ways in which the director dives into the moments depicted in still pictures of the era, while his use of archival footage of Beuys’ installations proves to be a transportive decision, as it truly allows the viewer to not only enter the time and space that the artwork was developed in, but experience its conception and creation alongside the artist himself.